Little Children (2006) Dir. Todd Field
I have ambiguous feelings about this movie. On the one hand, it’s great—the dialogues and the narration, the greatest forces of the film, are smart and powerful. On the other, I have a sense of feeling that the second part is much better than the first one. But it’s exactly the ending that left me touched, shaken, and in tears.
The story begins with a couple of characters: Sarah (Kate Winslet), a not very attractive mother of Lucy, and Brad (Patrick Wilson), a good-looking father of Aaron. They meet in their children’s playground. Although they’re both married, they have an affair. Before it happens, a viewer is presented with the problems they face in their relationships. Sarah’s husband Richard (Gregg Edelman) is addicted to pornographic websites, whereas Brad’s beautiful wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) is focused on only two things: her work and her son. The tensions in these two marriages are virtually tangible; hence, the affair is somewhat justified. There are all those little details that explain to us why such different people as Sarah and Brad decide to cheat on their spouses. Yet, I’m not convinced by their relationship. It lacks power and passion (by no means, the sensuality). Although wonderfully portrayed by Winslet and Wilson, they don’t seem real to me.
As I’ve mentioned, I prefer the second part of the movie. It gets dangerously intense when Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley), a sex offender, shows up at the public pool. The entire sequence is just astounding and disturbing. Once Ronnie is spotted by one of the mothers, panic breaks out—every single child and adult get out of water. It reminds me of a scene from “Jaws” when people hastily swim back to the shore away from the shark. Ronnie is treated the same way—as a danger, a disturbance, an abominable monster. Later, we get to know Ronnie’s mother (Phyllis Somerville), an exceptional woman who loves her son with pure, unconditional love. What’s amazing about their story is her attitude toward her son: full of motherly warmth. In the eyes of other parents, he is the monster that’s ought to be castrated (although he never actually lays a finger on any child). However, in the eyes of his own mother, he’s hurt and wronged.
The movie is a study of a unique relationship between mothers and their children. Of course, there’s one father, Brad, but he’s somewhere in between since his wife is the breadwinner. Children require all kinds of changes and even sacrifices from the characters. Brad and Sarah can leave their homes and start a new life together because of the children. Ironically, they meet thanks to their kids, but they also have to break up for their kids’ sake. Moreover, the movie proves that you never stop being a child, stop being loved by your mother, even if you’re almost 50, a pervert, and a convict, or a successful journalist with a husband a your own kid. Then, the movie is a study of behavior of lovers who cheat on their spouses. It’s not like a normal affair; it’s a secret you share it with the other person as well as you share the stolen time. Lastly, the movie studies the lives of wives, (the real) desperate housewives if you will, in the American suburbs. Field shows us family life with all its joy, problems, and pain, as it is— no sweetening.
My favorite part, the ending, is absolutely striking. The three characters, Sarah, Brad, and Ronnie, get to their conclusions. It is obvious that Sarah and Brad are not going to run away together. In a way, they seem to undergo a catharsis—their affair clears their minds. It gives them strength to go on with their lives. As for Ronnie, he does what everybody wants. In a moment of heartbreak after his mother’s death, he castrates himself. I think he does that because he feels guilty about the death of his mother. After all, they have constantly been bothered and even harassed due to his criminal past and sexual urge for children. It upsets the mother so much that her heart can’t take it anymore.
One of the strongest sides of the movie is the narration presented in an almost Woody Allenish way. It adds commentary and explanation. Both emotions and actions are verbalized. Moreover, the witty dialogues carry the movie. The acting has its significance, of course. The lines seem natural and convincing because actors are well cast. The best is Jackie Earle Haley—he’s brave, disturbing, and even revolting, and his ending scenes are full of intensity, pain, and heartache.
In my opinion, the movie is depressing although I wouldn’t change any part of it (it’s that good). It shows the sad reality of being a wife/husband, mother/father, and it proves it’s a trap without the exit. Life is not cruel; it’s just disappointing. This is the true images of desperate housewives/househusbands. Even the slightest attempt to change something fails. As the narrator concludes, you can’t change the past, there’s only the future. After all, we are all little children.
Long days, pleasant nights,